Re-Inventing Work: The Feminine Balance

DSC02992You don’t have to be camped out in an Occupy protest to know that some of the biggest challenges facing humanity are in the world of business and employment.

Hearteningly, it’s not just people on the streets who are asking big questions. In the FT, Luke Johnson, a very successful entrepreneur, even quotes Animal Farm in lamenting income inequalities. And on MIX this week, Gary Hamel, ranked by the WSJ as ‘one of the world’s most influential business thinkers’ interviews Lynda Gratton, a professor at LBS, on restoring values to work – and references ‘building spiritual capital’, a term that would have earned him derision only a few year ago.

It’s time to re-invent work. What it’s for. Why we do it. How it helps achieve the prosperity of humankind in its fullest sense.

For me, one vital aspect of this transformation is the advancement of women. Women bring different, richer, and often more balanced, perspectives into play. [if you’re thinking this is wishy-washy and you need the ROI, then McKinsey has compelling studies on how women’s participation is crucial to US economic growth].

So why am I disappointed to read the advice to women in Four Ways That Women Stunt Their Careers on the HBR Blog? Women are advised to avoid modesty and make more efforts to ensure that ‘they get the gold star next to their name’. They should also get used to talking over the top of other people: ‘It’s not easy to get a word in during meetings, especially when six other colleagues are all fighting for the floor’.

I’m sure the authors are well-meaning. I even accept that they may be tactically right. But it’s depressing. We don’t need women to behave more like men. We need women’s participation because that will change work for the better. Men too often pay lip-service to ideals of teamwork and collaboration, but quickly default to highly competitive mindsets. We want women fully involved because they don’t boast so much, because they listen as much as they talk, because they are more inclined to collaborate.

It’s not that men don’t have any of the strengths that we usually associate with women – intuition, empathy, compassion, thinking holistically and long-term. But women’s equal participation – as women – is the best chance of releasing, in all us, our feminine side. That balance alone can transform our workday world. The bird of humanity can only soar when its wings are equally developed.

It’s ours to create a new world of work. I see the full participation of women is an important part of it. I’ve raved about Iain McGilchrist before. He’s recently featured on TED and closes his talk with Einstein’s remark: ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant’.

As McGilchrist observes, we’ve created a society which honours the servant but has forgotten the sacred gift. Recognizing these different perspectives and subtle vital balances – in this case, between feminine and masculine perspectives – seems central to our wellbeing and true prosperity.